Wednesday 8 April 2009

Nuisance From Outside the Prison

Strasbourg watchers may have become used to the swarm of cases concerning prison conditions. But even for them, a judgment issued yesterday by the Court may contain a novelty. In Branduse v. Romania, the Court found that the state had not only violated Article 3 ECHR (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) because of the overcrowded conditions in the prison, but also Article 8 ECHR (right to respect for private life) because of the stench and stale air that came from outside the prison!

The stench came from a former refuse tip, which was partly still being used illegally. Following its earlier case law, the Court held that Article 8 ECHR can, in cases of nuisance from noise or fumes, even be applicable if there is no grave danger for health, but when an environmental impact assessment has shown that there were dangerous effects of a certain activity. In this case, the national assessment had shown that people living even further away from the tip than the prison was situated had to undergo "total discomfort". Although Branduse had not shown any effects on his health, the very fact that he had to endure the stench for seven years had affected his quality of life to such an extent that Article 8 became applicable. After all, the Court noted, the prison cell was his only "space of life" during the period concerned. In the assessment on the contents, the Court focused on procedural issues, such as the failure of the authorities to abide by their own rules and the lack of access to environmental information for the prisoner. It can be concluded that even detainees have certain rights concerning a reasonable environment and that environmental problems do not only cross borders - as the famous dictum puts it - but also prison walls!

The judgment itself is available only in French, but a press release in English can be found here.